As with many brands residing at the less-expensive end of the market, the Tanglewood logo has appeared on more than a few blatant copies. However, it's also adorned a number of original creations that have introduced some welcome individuality into the market. The Custom Retro series aims to combine the two, and the TSE-605 offers a cleverly conceived variation on the venerable Gibson SG.
Design and construction
This is undoubtedly inspired by Gibson's second-most successful solidbody, the SG, but it avoids aggravating any overly sensitive copyright issues with some suitable re-shaping of the chassis. The horns are more obviously offset than on the real deal, while the lower bouts are made asymmetric rather than regular, with more meat being removed on the treble side.
The end result is actually a tad more streamlined than the Gibson original, but it still retains much of the classic SG character. A simple, elegant headstock hints at Gretsch rather than Gibson, but vintage Kluson-type tuners with plastic thistle buttons stay true to the target brand. As is typical on any such traditional design, strings are significantly deflected from the straight and narrow, but here well-cut nut slots cure any friction-induced hang-ups when tuning.
The black face carries the Tanglewood logo - although the 'T' actually looks more like a 'C' - while an Olympic-flame style central inlay adds some visual interest. The glued-in maple neck offers an undemanding handful, courtesy of a shallow 'C' profile that's slim in depth and width at the nut, although by the final fret it's broader by 14mm.
The gently radiused fingerboard is a smooth-ish slab of bound rosewood, with all 22 medium gauge frets left reasonably high, but quite well finished and free of any rough ends. The block position markers are installed a little erratically, with some sited more off-centre than others. The body is suitably SG-slim, which helps give the guitar a light weight. The construction and cutaways allow adequate operation at the upper end, although access doesn't equal the original's unimpeded reach.
Body edges are bevelled in accordance with Gibson tradition and this chamfering reveals one of the joins in the body's three-piece basswood construction, but elsewhere everything is hidden under mahogany veneer on the front and rear faces. These details are seen through a translucent cherry finish obviously intended to enhance the SG image. The small scratchplate also hints at the Gibson original, but the curves could be more accurate, as the shape looks a little lumpy. The tune-o-matic type bridge and accompanying tailpiece are equally Gibson-orientated.
The pickups are a pair of Dark Star humbuckers, courtesy of UK designer Alan Entwistle. They feature ceramic magnets, plus screw pole pieces in all four coils for greater adjustability. The accompanying control layout follows firmly in Gibson's footsteps and although no coil-switching is officially offered, this can be easily achieved via a couple of very simple solder connections.
Unplugged, the TSE-605 has a fair degree of natural sustain, along with a mid-dominated tone, and some of this character comes across when amplified. The pickups certainly aren't short on output, but despite their Dark Star designation, they're not lacking top end either - there's a pleasing all-round muscle to the tone.
The neck humbucker has bags of woody bite on offer, while its bridge partner puts greater emphasis on upper mid-range frequencies by comparison - delivering some impressive up-front definition that's guaranteed to cut through the even muddiest mix. Engaging both introduces some rather nasal overtones, suggesting out of phase operation, at least to a certain degree.
When played clean, the 605's pickups acquit themselves better than their macho image might suggest, but they really come into their own through a cranked amp. The bridge pickup scores especially well in this area - dishing the dirt very effectively all the way from grinding crunch through to some full-on chordal thrash.